Monday, August 29, 2005

Flash from the Past: "Build This!..."

While we were down in Southern California, we couldn't resist spending some time at that remarkable spot in Anaheim. Disney was certainly no man of small ideas (he did once get fired from a newspaper because of a "lack of ideas", though).

After a trip to Switzerland with his family, Walt was so impressed by the Matterhorn, that he sent a postcard to his Imagineering team, saying "Build This!" and that's just what they did. The current issue if "E-Ticket Magazine" has wonderful coverage of this Matterhorn building project. Somewhat unbelievably, Walt initially pondered setting up a snow machine for a real snowy toboggan ride in sweltering Anaheim. Fortunately, he eventually settled on the basics: "it had to be safe, fun, travel in and around a replica of a real mountain with a Skyway ride going through the middle of it, have a high ridership capacity two separate rides that would twist and turn within the other's path."

Design engineers Ed Morgan and Karl Bacon had no roller coaster experience before they accepted this job. They had met working at a Naval plant in Sunnyvale. Ultimately they designed, built, and tested the Matterhorn for opening within just 10 months.

The E-ticket article is great fun to read and a great example of innovative thinking and design. Unfortunately it's not online, although some links to the Matterhorn history are presented below. The Matterhorn ride really rides like a non-computer generated roller coaster, and apparently Morgan and Bacon had to grunt through a lot of calculations by hand.

"Many coaster dynamics are variable; speed based on up and down slopes, banking required in turns, bank change rates, variable guest weights, etc. I had to figure on variable friction coefficients depending on how long the car has been running, temperature of the day and so forth. This meant that as the track course was being layed out, the speeds had to be calculated based on the course effect on the car. I needed to learn trigonometry real quick....I'd failed geometry one in high school but found I could learn enough trigonometry just from a chart in one afternoon."

Morgan and Bacon seemed to have the right ingredients for a creative collaboration. Recalls Ed Morgan, "I definitely wouldn't have been as successful had I not met Karl Bacon. We generated ideas and projects together, often over lunch in the conference room. I was the guy that made them happen from the mechanical standpoint; Karl was the guy who did the math. We complemented each other completely and without strife of any kind."

Matterhorn Makers at Disneyland
Matterhorn Patent
Matterhorn History
E Ticket Magazine

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